What if rape was responded to like terrorism? 

What if rape was responded to like terrorism, and terrorism was responded to like rape?




As someone who specialises in the psychology of victim blaming in sexual violence, I have found the responses and media coverage to terrorism quite perplexing. In this article, I am going to compare and contrast rape and terrorism – and then show what would happen if rape was responded to as terrorism and what would happen if terrorism was responded to like a rape. 

When a woman is raped, she is highly likely to be blamed by everyone from her own family to the support services supposedly helping her. She is also very likely to blame herself – either because she has been told it was her fault, or because she has grown up in a patriarchy that has taught her that rape is a trivial issue that women bring upon themselves, lie about and overreact to. 

She hears victim blaming messages like: 

“You should have known that would happen”

“What did you expect was going to happen?”

“Why didn’t you just leave him?”

“Why did you leave your friends on a night out, that’s stupid.”

“But what were you wearing?”

“You have to take responsibility for walking home alone.”

“You shouldn’t get into a taxi alone next time.”

“You should always get a lift from a trusted friend.”

“Don’t get too drunk this festive season, you need to keep yourself safe.”

Trust me when I say that the list goes on and on and on and fucking on. 

(I dealt with a case of a rape of a 16 year old girl once where she was head butted 10 times in the face and the defence barrister actually defended the rapist by trying to convince the jury that all of her injuries were self inflicted for attention – I have quite literally seen it all. Victim blaming is the name of the game.)

So, when a woman gets raped, everyone is very sure who the problem is. The problem is the woman. The woman must change. The woman must adapt. The woman must take responsibility. The woman must see what’s coming her way. The woman must defend herself better. The woman must make herself completely undesirable and unnoticeable so sex-crazed-men don’t accidentally rape her (#fuckoff). 

The man who raped her is completely erased from his own crime. The woman becomes the perp and the victim – she brought this on herself. She is under scrutiny. Her sex life is investigated. Her background. Her ethnicity. Her class. Her life. Her experiences. Her job. Her education. She is on trial, make no mistake. She is on trial. 

If anyone actually reports on the rapist, he gets a lovely write up about liking swimming and being a great guy – and the huge impact the rape allegation is having on him. 

The police do not rush to arrest anyone. The government does not ‘find’ millions in defence money to protect women. Officials don’t hold emergency meetings about the amount of women being killed and raped every day. 

But what about the terrorism narratives? 

What happens when a guy goes into a tube station and plants a bomb? What happens when a guy detonates a bomb at a concert? What happens when a guy drives into a crowd of innocents? How is it spoken about and what is the media coverage like? 

“We will not change our way of life!”

“We are not afraid of you!”

“You can’t control us!”

“They just want us to stop going out and stop having fun! We will not stop!”

“The world will keep going and we will not be deterred!”

“We cannot let this attack on innocent people change our way of life – we must act, dress, think and behave as normal!”

“I’m still coming in the tube every single day – I’m not scared. They can’t stop me!”

“I still go to gigs – I won’t change my behaviours because of their sick crimes.”

So, when a terrorist attack occurs, there is no victim blaming of the innocent victims. No one tells them to do something different or asks them why they were walking down that path when the car hit them. No one tells them to stop going to work on the tube incase it is bombed again. No one tells them all to take self defence classes and wear bomb proof clothing. No one tells them to stay home and hide. No one tells the victims that they wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place if they didn’t like Ariana Grande so much. Think about it.
 
The perp is absolutely vilified, in minutes of the crime happening (and don’t get me wrong, I see the intersection here with race and class) – but just look at the difference in motivation and reporting when a guy commits a terrorist attack or mass murder versus when a man rapes a number of women. He has every bad thing he ever did reported about him. The press raid his Facebook and talk to all of his family and friends to piece together how he could commit such a sick act as to harm innocent humans. The police swoop in fast as fuck and it’s ‘all systems go’. 

People call for the death sentence and better prevention approaches. People have huge meetings about how to keep innocent people safe in cities and at events. 

So what if a rape was reported like terrorism? 




“Good Evening. This is the 6 o’clock news. First, this breaking story. This week thousands of innocent women were brutally raped and abused all over the UK. Women who were just going about their day, going to work, looking after their children, exercising and sleeping in their beds – all targeted and attacked. The PM Theresa May has given a statement today committing millions of pounds in resources to stop the abuse and murder of women at the hands of men and has convened an emergency meeting with top officials to understand what went wrong. She finished her speech by saying that women must be able to go about their daily lives without fear of violence and death. Women should not have to change the way they live to stay safe. The public and celebrities from all over the world shared their hurt and condolences on social media. The families are all receiving the very best support at this difficult time. We will be following this story all week, as more and more women are named as victims of rape and male violence – stay with us for live updates throughout the night.”

And what if terrorism was reported like a rape? 




(You could argue here, there wouldn’t be a report. But for arguments sake, let’s pretend the media actually does report rape…)

“Good evening. This is the six o’clock news and tonight we have a number of headlines including the return of Garden Force, the latest from Donald Trump, a report on terrorism and we go live to the BAFTAs. 

A new report on terrorism has shown that at least 3 people per week are being murdered by terrorists and thousands per year, possibly in the region of 700,000, are being attacked by terrorists. Experts have been commenting on the new report with many saying that terrorism is a lot better than it used to be and the stats are only going up because people feel more confident to report it to the police thanks to the brilliant work of police forces to raise awareness of terrorism. A new charity which specialises in terrorism prevention has given a list of terrorist-proofing strategies to vulnerable potential victims and research has been commissioned into exploring what vulnerabilities lead to people being attacked by terrorists. One expert explained that people can stay safe by rarely leaving their house, working from home, never using public transport, never going abroad, always wearing bullet proof vests and never going to large public events of any kind. Pro-terrorist groups have started a campaign called #notallterrorists to put pressure on the anti-terrorist groups to stop talking about terrorism. 
And next up, Garden Force is set to return to our screens next year!”

I won’t stop until the rape and murder of women is responded to and reported like terrorism. 



I won’t stop until victim blaming of women and girls is seen as ridiculous as blaming innocent victims of a terror attack.



Written by Jessica Eaton
Www.victimfocus.org.uk

Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk 

The Response to Sexual Harassment? “Don’t flatter yourself!”

Written by Jessica Eaton

Follow and share on twitter @Jessicae13Eaton 

Email: JEE509@bham.ac.uk


Today, I become completely enthralled by a 522 (and growing) comment thread on professional networking site, Linkedin. 

In this blog post, I am going to show you screenshots of real comments made by professionals from all different sectors, made in the last 48 hours. These comments are direct responses to a female CEO who uploaded a post about her weariness of the sexual harassment and inappropriate comments she receives in her Linkedin inbox. So why was I so enthralled by this growing stream of comments? 

Because those comments were the most incredible, public and professional display of victim blaming I have ever seen. 

So first of all, let’s have a look at the post that started this whole thing off:


I read this post from a very successful female CEO and Founder of a large company; and I empathised immediately. I could hear the frustration in her post, the capitalisation speaks volumes. This is a woman at the end of her tether. This is a woman who is sick of having to tell male professionals on LinkedIn that she is not interested and that LinkedIn is not for ‘romantic requests’ – which is considerably more polite than the way I would have written that post. 

I was about to scroll away until I noticed the large amount of comments and I clicked to open them up because I instantly wondered if it was hundreds of other successful women saying ‘me too!’ 

And don’t get me wrong, there were some women thanking her for being so honest. There were a handful of women admitting that they had the same problem. However, I did wonder whether the nature of the other hundreds of comments would deter a woman from admitting it happened to her too. 

The types of comments can be broadly split into 5 main themes: 

1. Men ridiculing her for ‘moaning about’ being sexually harassed by directly saying that she was exaggerating or calling her derogatory names

2. Men trivialising and laughing off her complaint 

3. Men telling her that she should be grateful for the compliments and that she needs to lighten up

4. Women normalising the harassment, telling her that she is attention seeking and should get over herself 

5. Women disclosing the same sort of harassment on LinkedIn and then being shut down 

I am going to work through these 5 main themes and explain why they have direct links to victim blaming in sexual violence. 

1. Men ridiculing her for ‘moaning about’ being sexually harassed by saying that she was exaggerating or by calling her derogatory names 

Example 1


Example 2


Example 3


Example 4


Analysis 

This was a very common type of comment. If that isn’t bad enough, all of the comments were provided by people with their full name, photograph and employer’s name right next to the abusive and sexist comments. 

The comments vary between outright name calling and comments that imply she is being rather too self-congratulatory about being sexually harassed so frequently. A few of the comments criticise the way she looks to minimise the possibility that this has really happened to her (almost suggesting she is lying or exaggerating). Some of the comments tell her that they no longer want her as a business connection or that they wouldn’t even meet her for a coffee because she is so ‘scary’, ‘nasty’ and ‘rude’. One man announced that he was disconnecting from her immediately if she was going to moan about sexual harrassment. 

So, how does this link to victim blaming in sexual violence? 

Each of the screenshots above give accurate examples of the ways women are blamed when they experience sexual violence (and of course we must ensure we are acknowledging sexual harassment as a form of sexual violence). When women disclose sexual violence, it is common for them to have their experience minimised or trivialised. When someone responds to a disclosure with the words ‘grow up you old hag’ and ‘dog’ and ‘I’m still confused why you are getting so much attention’ – they are telling her that she is worthless, her anger is not justified and that she does not fit their stereotype of a sexual harassment victim. If she is disclosing sexual harassment then she must be lying, exaggerating or confused. And if she is the type of woman to do that on linkedin, she is clearly a ‘nasty woman’ and she deserves instant and harsh consequences for lying/bragging/exaggerating about her sexual harassment. 

When a person responds with ‘don’t flatter yourself, love’ – it is very clear that they have read the disclosure of sexual harassment, looked at her photograph and then made a judgment call that she is not nearly attractive enough to be sexual harassed and is therefore taking these comments the wrong way in order to inflate her ego. This relates to victim blaming as there is ample research that shows that juries are more likely to find a sexual violence perpetrator guilty if the female victim is judged to be stereotypically ‘beautiful’ and that juries are more likely to blame the victim if she is overweight and stereotypically ‘unattractive’. 

There is even a comment rating her as a 7 out of 10 – again insinuating that she is just not attractive enough to be sexually harassed so is probably making it up. 

 Another saying that she has a ‘face like thunder’ and is therefore not attractive or smiley enough to be sexually harassed. (I can tell you now that her profile photograph is a professional head and shoulders shot with a neutral expression – maybe he thought she needed to ‘smile more’.) 

The final comment is a perfect example of victim blaming. Example 4 is a man who is going along the lines of ‘if you don’t want to be sexually harassed, don’t look nice, or ever be seen by men, they can’t help themselves…’

Solution: Live on an island. Forever. No men allowed. (Apparently)

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme: 

– Only gorgeous women get sexually harassed 

– Men cannot help themselves and women are responsible for dealing with that desire 

– Women often make up or exaggerate sexual violence 


2. Men trivialising and laughing off her complaint by implying that she is full of herself and overreacting 


Example 5


Example 6



Example 7




Analysis 

These types of comments were frequent throughout with many people liking them and agreeing with them over and over again. Most of these comments referred to her ‘huge ego’ that she has because she spoke about being sexually harassed. For some reason, this large, organic sample of professionals thought that talking about sexual harassment was ‘bragging’. 

What’s interesting here though, is that I noticed that these comments were more likely to have women agreeing with them than any other type of comment. Men would typically start the thread by commenting on the size of her ego for ‘assuming’ that men found her sexually attractive and then women were quickly drawn to these threads and became involved. One woman in particular was relentless for hours and repeatedly commented that the entire thing was to boost her own self worth and to increase the number of men looking at her profile and contacting her – sort of like pseudo-reverse-psychology I guess… 😳

So, why is this linked with victim blaming?

Well, overall, it fits very well with victim blaming messages that tell women that sexual violence isn’t that serious, isn’t that harmful and that sexual violence has been made into this big issue by us killjoy feminists who demand respect.  Comments like the ones above deliver two harmful messages: 

You are not worthy of being sexually harassed or of moaning about it and if you do disclose sexual harassment, it will not be taken seriously and you will look like a jumped up female who brags about strangers hitting on her.

Yeah. Right. 

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme: 

– Sexual violence isn’t that serious or harmful 

– Women shouldn’t talk about sex or sexual violence 


3. Men telling her that she should be grateful for the compliments and that she needs to lighten up


Example 8



Example 9



Analysis 

As you can see, some of these are very offensive and I found myself wondering how much harm they were doing as every second a new comment like this was added. The ‘be grateful’ theme was very common indeed, but exclusively put across by men. The messages ranged from polite but sexist comments telling her to lighten up, get a grip and enjoy the attention right the way through to horrid comments calling her names like the example above.

Either way, she ought to be happy, grateful and thankful for the sexual harassment and unwanted comments she keeps receiving. This has to be one of the most blatant examples of sexism I have seen recently. A woman discloses how frustrated she is with unwanted sexual contact from professionals in her field and a load of professionals in her field tell her that she should be enjoying it and to shut up. Appalling but real. These are real professionals on LinkedIn. I wonder if they behave like this in the workplace? 

So, how does this link to victim blaming? 

When women talk about sexual violence, it is the word ‘sexual’ that tends to stick in people’s minds. This (in addition to the fact that women are still seen as sexual objects with just one purpose) meant that sexual violence still gets categorised as ‘sex’ in the minds of many. The violence, the harassment, the assault: that tends to get lost. 

If a beautiful woman is being contacted by businessmen because she is so desirable – what on earth is she moaning about?! 

It doesn’t matter that the person is a stranger or even a business contact who thinks it is totally okay to comment on her body or ask her if they can take her out on a professional networking platform. It doesn’t matter that she is an intelligent, powerful, successful CEO – as long as she looks nice and they can message her out of the blue, stoked with the right to be able to say whatever they want to a woman whenever they want and not only should she be polite – but she must be grateful too. 

Unless you’re only a 7 out of 10 – and then you’re lying about it anyway. 

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme:

– Women often lie about sexual violence for attention 

– Women enjoy sexual violence 

– Sexual violence is not harmful, it’s just sex 

– Women secretly love being sexually harassed 

– Women make a fuss about sexual violence to save face and to pretend to be righteous 


4. Women normalising the harassment, telling her that she is attention seeking and should get over herself 


Example 10



Example 11



Example 12



Analysis 

Now, we move on to the theme dominated by women. In this theme we see women ridiculing her for being ‘up herself’, telling her to take it as a compliment and stop seeking attention and some advice from a woman at the end who seeks to normalise the inevitable abuse she is receiving. 

Again, very common in the comments. I guess most people would assume that women might have more empathy or relate to her more, but we can see that far from relating to her, they distanced themselves from her and joined in with the ridiculing and minimising. 

So why does this link with victim blaming? 

There is a theory in victim blaming called the ‘defensive attribution hypothesis’ which argued that people who identify as similar to the victim of sexual violence are much less likely to blame them. So for example a woman might think ‘Wow, I am a professional woman too – it just goes to show that it could happen to me too.’ This is the same theory that argues that female victims would be better with female supporters and that women victim blame less than men.

However, this is rarely the case. Women are just as likely to victim blame as men and this is something I have been examining in my PhD. There are also potential reasons for why this could be. The first would be that the women who leave comments like the ones above are engaging in some kind of ‘self-preservation’ tactic by ridiculing her and distancing from her experience, they can assure themselves that it won’t happen to them and it must be happening to her for a reason. 

The second, which accounts for the woman who normalises and minimises her sexual harassment, is that women have absorbed systemic sexism and patriarchy for so long that it has truly become normality for them. So when a man acts inappropriately towards them, they have learned that this is a normal, everyday occurrence and that they have no right to be so angry about it – because all women experience it. 

The third is that women have been taken in by the counter-arguments to sexual violence and they erroneously believe that sexual power and abuse is part of men’s nature, that it’s natural for men to be so sexually demanding and abusive and that they cannot help themselves. This results in women being taught to ‘protect themselves and ‘reduce risk’ in a society supposedly filled with men who cannot possibly control themselves – which is an insult to millions of men.

These potential reasons are possible because women and girls spend their entire lives submerged in a society that objectifies and dehumanises them. A society that tells them that they must be attractive at all times but not a ‘slut’ or a ‘show-off’. That they are so desirable that men cannot help but rape them. That their body is public property. That they need to smile more. That they need to just accept sexism for what it is and move on. 

Women who have been successfully socialised to believe that they are a walking, talking, non-thinking sex object to be commented on and conquered are not going to defend a woman who is experiencing sexual harassment as they will probably take on the views of the patriarchal society in which they have been moulded. 

Sadly, the comments that concern me the most are the ones telling her to get over herself and that she is attention seeking. I see these comments as a direct result of women being pitted against each other in terms of aesthetics. The media have been having a field day with this for decades (Field decade? Field era?)…

Women are pitted against each other in gossip magazines, in reality TV shows, in competitions and beauty pageants, in lads mags where they literally rate readers’ girlfriends, in women’s mags where they rate fashion and make up and hair, in music videos and films in which women compete for male attention or a relationship with a man who is playing them both. 

This is not an accident. When women are pitted against each other, they are much weaker as a community (and they make lots of money for companies profiting off their competition to look perfect). 

The comment ‘get over yourself’ could be seen as a woman saying to her ‘you’re not even that attractive’ or ‘you’re not worthy of this much attention’ or ‘you think a lot of yourself, don’t you?’ Those three words speak volumes. 

Why did a woman read the experience of constant sexual harassment of a female business connection and instantly respond with a flippant and derogatory remark? Is it because she felt threatened? Did she think ‘Why is she getting all of those messages from men? She must be bragging. I mean look at her, she’s not even that attractive!’ 

I see this as a direct result of pitting women against each other.

(Note: the relative beauty of the woman and the actual appearance is irrelevant here but the way she was quickly perceived as ‘not that attractive’ in many of these comments makes me wonder whether her assertive post suddenly made her seem less attractive to people who originally found her photos attractive until they realised she had an opinion). 

Victim blaming messages and rape myths achieved in this theme: 

– Women lie about sexual violence for attention 

– Men cannot help themselves 

– Women need to accept that sexual violence is a part of life 

– Women don’t have a right to talk about sexual violence 

– Sexual harassment isn’t that serious 


5. Women disclosing the same sort of harassment on LinkedIn and then being shut down 

Example 13



Analysis 

This was the rarest type of comment but, as I said at the beginning of this blog, I wonder if that’s because the comment thread was so hostile that many women read the thread but didn’t disclose the same sexual harassment as the original poster because they could see what they would be up against. The example above gives a flavour of the responses to women who did dare write ‘me too!’ 

The exact same levels of judgement are thrown at the women who disclose similar sexual harassment. 

Why is this linked to victim blaming? 

This one is slightly more obscure but is strongly linked to victim blaming of the self. Self-blame. We know that self-blame is very common in sexual violence and there are lots of reasons for this but one of them relates to the example above. Women are consumers of media, opinion and thoughts about women – and they absorb the messages from as early as the toddler years. They grow up listening to and watching stories of female lives, trauma, mental health issues, experiences and abuse where the women are picked apart, criticised and judged for why these things have happened to them.  Women learn that disclosure = judgement. 

Not only this, but they learn to blame themselves using the same victim blaming messages that they are expecting to be judged with at the point of disclosure. Was I drunk? Was I wearing a low cut top? Did I come across as a flirt? Should I have behaved differently? Is my story believable enough? 

When the answers to these questions are less than perfect, women are able to accurately predict the responses they may receive based on all of the responses and messages they have ever seen before. They may think ‘well, I guess what I said could have been misconstrued as flirting so I am probably to blame’. Once the self-blame sets in, victim blaming become so much more powerful because you have the social victim blaming coming from myths, gender roles and victim stereotypes, then you have the directed victim blaming about the character or behaviour of the woman and then you have this new layer: the woman themselves, employing these messages to blame herself and to agree with the victim blaming messages of herself and others because she knows that unless she is the ‘perfect victim’ (shown to be completely and utterly innocent) she will be judged by these values and she knows she will lose. Badly. 

Closing Comments

This blog was a reaction to a LinkedIn post by a successful female CEO and Founder. She has not only experienced significant sexual harassment in her private messages that led her to speak out about the nature of the professional networking platform but also paid a heavy price for thinking that people would agree and empathise with her. The comment thread (which is still growing at the time of writing) became a petri-dish of all different types and styles of victim blaming which I sought to expose and explain. The thread is shocking and probably triggering for many people, including people who have experienced sexual violence. It provided a window into the prevalence of victim blaming of women – but in a unique context: sexual harassment in a professional workplace environment. I did attempt to challenge some of the commenters but I became one of the women who got spectacularly shut down. 

Please call out sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace – and everywhere.

The screen shots were taken on the 5th November 2016. All names and photos have been (badly) removed to preserve anonymity of the poster and the commenters. 

‘Take Responsibility’ – The New, Improved & More Socially Acceptable Way to Victim Blame

By Jessica Eaton

Twitter @JessicaE13Eaton

It’s not okay to victim blame – but it’s more than okay to force women and girls to take responsibility for their rape or sexual assault. This article examines recent evidence and possible reasons for why this is happening. 


In my doctoral research in forensic psychology, in my job as a writer, researcher and speaker in CSE and sexual violence and in my general experience of being a woman in the world (an observant, highly critical woman at that) I am becoming acutely aware of a societal shift away from ‘victim blame’ towards ‘victim responsibility’ – and this is something I have designed a new psychometric measure in, which will be tested on thousands of people in the UK this Autumn. (Update: This was completed in 2017)
When I say acutely aware, what I mean is a feeling that every time I look at the news, see an advert or campaign, hear a broadcast, teach at an event or get into a conversation – I find myself listening to people who are victim blaming whilst denouncing victim blaming.

What do I mean by this? Well, I can already tell as I am writing this that it sounds like waffle so I will give some examples I have seen or heard recently and then I will move on to more structured arguments:

“I’m not saying she’s to blame for being raped, but she shouldn’t have got into that car.”

“It’s always the perpetrator’s fault but if he hadn’t gone on the app in the first place, none of this would have happened to him, would it?”

“She’s not to blame for what happened to her, but she does need to take more responsibility for her choices that evening.”

“We advise all festival goers to stay aware. Please do not get so drunk that you end up a victim of crime.”

“Women need to take more responsibility. They need to know that if they dress like that, they are bound to get inappropriate comments!”

“The child needs help to make better decisions and to reduce their risk of child sexual exploitation.”

“She’s received 47 death threats from the perp so we have advised her to take the initiative to move out of the area and to change her number so he won’t be able to continue harassing her. She refuses to move so the abuse continues.”

What we have here are more intelligent, more socially acceptable and more subtle examples of victim blaming. However, whilst the principle remains the same (the shift of focus from the perp to the victim), the wording is slightly softened and changed to ‘responsibility’ or ‘decision making’. Some of these comments actually contradict themselves by claiming to understand that the perpetrator is always to blame, but then use ‘responsibility’ to equally blame the victim without sounding like they are blaming the victim.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have the rise of the socially desirable response.

This interests me so much because my research focus is victim blaming and the way women and girls learn to absorb these victim blaming messages from an early age which then leads to them blaming themselves when they experience sexual violence. I believe that as a general society, victim blaming is not reducing at all, it is merely becoming more insidious and cameoflaged by adapting the language used. People know that they shouldn’t victim blame, but they still feel the need to do it, so what do they do? They adapt.

Examples of the shift from blame to responsibility:

Anti-rape wear by Defendables (and others)


Anti-rape wear is the ultimate shift from blame to responsibility. The slogan of Defendables on all of their marketing materials is:

“DEFENDABLES -DON’T BE A VICTIM

Anti-rape wear is generally marketed as underwear or other garments that are designed to lock (you’re thinking chastity belt aren’t you? Yeah, you’re not far off) so you don’t get raped. Genius, eh? All those millions of women who have experienced rape and sexual violence and all that was really needed was a pair of knickers that can’t be tugged, unlocked, cut off or ripped.

AR Wear advise women that they can wear the knickers when they go running, travelling or on a first date. Excellent.


However, there are a few problems with anti-rape wear.

1. To prevent rape, you would have to wear these 24/7, 365 days a year 

The fact that these items are marketed for running at night, travelling alone and going on first dates just confirms that the designers and founders of these companies have no idea what they are talking about. With the large majority of rapes happening within the home of the victim and perpetrated by someone they knew well (family member, partner, friend or ex partner) – women would have to wear these for the rest of their lives in order to get protection from them.

2. These knickers completely ignore wider sexual violence acts

So you’ve got your anti-rape knickers on, you’re safe, you’re confident. You are now protected from rape. Really?

The sexual offences act 2003 defines rape as including oral sexual assault. What are we going to wear to prevent that? A Bane mask? (Sorry, Batman fans.)

But seriously, what about women being forced into sexual acts that do not require the penetration of their vagina? What about being touched? What about being coerced or threatened into taking the knickers off and unlocking them? What about being sweet-talked and groomed into not wearing them?

This garment is designed based on the myth that all rapes and sexual assaults are random acts of severe violence perpetrated in unfamiliar environments by a stranger. Every other form of sexual act is ignored. The concept of grooming, threat and charm is ignored.

3. “She should have been wearing her anti-rape knickers!”

In more direct and overt examples, victim blaming will most certainly increase if these garments ever became a serious trend. Imagine the ridiculous arguments in court, by police, from friends and family and the wider public when a woman gets raped and she wasn’t wearing her trusty anti-rape underwear. It’s just more pathetic excuses added to the arsenal of rape-deniers and victim-blamers everywhere.

In more subtle blaming, the focus will shift to a woman’s responsibility to ensure she is prioritising her personal safety by wearing these knickers. It will be her duty to ensure she is taking adequate steps to reduce her risk of rape. Don’t drink. Don’t wear short skirts. Don’t live one hour of your life without your anti-rape knickers on. You fool.

This is not a route we need to go down, ever. Anti-rape wear is not the answer to rape. It never has been and it never will be. Forcing women to take more precautions and more responsibility to prevent their own rape is ridiculous. What about women who have been with their partners for 12 years and then they begin to show abusive behaviours and start manipulating them, eventually leading to their partner raping or sexually assaulting them? What would be said to them? That they should have worn their anti-rape knickers for their whole relationship just on the off-chance? That she ‘should have seen the signs of abuse’ and bought anti-rape wear to protect herself?

The fact that a lot of money, innovation and resource has been pumped into designing prototypes of knickers that imply that the burden of responsibility to prevent rape sits with the woman feels like a massive step backwards.

Public safety campaigns aimed at potential victims 

Some excellent examples below contain messages that place an incredible amount of responsibility on the victim and even her friends – to ensure she is not raped. It feels as though our government and our public services have just resigned themselves to the fact that women and girls will continue to get raped so they have decided to target all of their messages and resources at women and girls rather than perpetrators. It’s a sorry state of affairs that teaches women that they are responsible for their rape, if they break any of the rules in the campaigns.


I doubt that you will be surprised to see this one. The U.K. and USA especially have created solid links between alcohol and rape in recent years. Their reasoning is so frequent and confident that they make it sound as though it’s the alcohol that rapes women. It’s incredible really.

This poster is implying that if you drink alcohol, you might get raped. More than that, it positions your choice to have a drink over the choice of the perpetrator to target you and rape you.

This poster sends the message that if you were drunk when you got raped, you will have broken the golden rule and you will not be afforded any sympathy. Case in point: The Sun headline about India, who was raped and murdered. #2The coverage of the Brock Turner case in which the fact that the woman had been drinking was a massive focus.

You had a responsibility not to drink and you did not uphold that responsibility – you will therefore come under heavy scrutiny from both men and women about why you were drinking in the first place.


Again, another example of subtle victim blaming in which the shift is based on the responsibility for personal safety and ‘looking after yourself’ and ‘making good decisions’.

This poster by Essex Police clearly instructs women not to walk home alone. Well, what happens if they do walk home alone? Are they less deserving of justice? The answer to that, sadly, is yes. There is a high chance that people around them will question why they decided to walk home alone and why they didn’t reasonably predict that they would be raped or sexually assaulted. The focus will shift back to the ‘everyone is responsible for their own safety’ message, which is what this poster is based on.

This is not crime prevention, this is victim blaming. However you dress it up.


I really do not like this one. The poster depicts a woman with her knickers around her ankles with a bit of text aimed at her friends saying that she might get so drunk that she will make bad decisions. However, the large text overriding the poster says ‘she didn’t want to, but she couldn’t say no’.

Well, in my opinion, she didn’t make a bad decision. Her decision was that she didn’t want to have sex. However, she was unable to communicate her decision due to being drunk. And when you are too drunk to convey your decision about sex…

(Say it all together now)

That is rape.

So why exactly has this police force reframed a very clear example of rape due to the person not having capacity to consent or communicate – as a ‘bad decision’ and then placed the responsibility on the friends? It’s astounding.

There are hundreds of examples of these types of campaigns, resources and anti-rape wear garments and judging by the quick and critical response to most of them on social media, I would hope that a lot of these messages are being rejected – however, a critical look at academic research and professional practice in sexual violence has a slightly different story to tell. A story that ultimately suggests that the ‘take responsibility’ message is alive and well and unfortunately, increasing.

Academic Research 

There are a string of studies into victim blaming that sparked my interest into whether victim blaming was becoming more intelligent and more subtle. Having recently conducted a very large literature review in victim blaming and self blame in sexual violence which led to me designing a new measure of victim blaming, I noticed something really important that I hope to test.

In the 1980s, Martha Burt found that around half of all people surveyed blamed women for their rape, usually using reasoning like ‘they were asking for it’ or ‘they deserved it’ or ‘they brought it upon themselves by the way they were… (Insert reason here)’. As you can imagine, half is a pretty big claim. However, as someone who works in this field, I accepted that to be fairly accurate. However, in 2005 Amnesty International performed a very large survey or victim blaming and rape myth acceptance and found that the proportion of people who blamed women for their rape had dropped to a third. Many researchers hailed this as a true reduction in victim blaming and put it down to better education, rape prevention programmes and good campaigns around sexual violence. I was sceptical.

My observations and criticisms were based around the survey items used to test people. They were so direct and so overtly sexist that I doubted whether even the most confident sexists would admit to agreeing to the items. Examples include items such as ‘if a woman acts like slut, she deserves to get raped’ and ‘rape is a common weapon that women use against men’. I argued that it was much more likely that people were just responding in a socially desirable manner and were therefore disagreeing with the most overt examples of victim blaming and were only agreeing to the items that were more subtly worded such as the items that talked about responsibility and casual factors that ‘led’ to the rape. I also had issues with language and wording of a lot of items due to the scales being written some decades ago and the way the general public speak having changed.

I was delighted to find that McMahon (2010) had the exact same criticisms as I did and had done an excellent piece of research that asked university students to look at the IRMAS scale and to be honest about whether they thought people of their age group (18-25) would answer them honestly. The findings were really useful to researchers like me. They confirmed that many people would not like to be seen as agreeing to overt victim blaming but would be more likely to agree to the more subtle forms of victim blaming, which usually involve responsibility or cause rather than blame.  One item about women who deserve to be raped was completely dropped from the updated version of the scale because so many participants said that even if they believed that some women deserved to be raped, they knew that it was not socially acceptable to say it like that so they would not answer that question or would lie about their views.

Once McMahon had amended the scale using updated language and the ideas from the participants, it was found that the proportion of people who blame women for their rape went back up to half. For me, this was good evidence of my argument that victim blaming was not reducing, it was evolving.

The second issue I have been looking at is language around blame, responsibility, fault and cause. In every day language, we use them interchangeably. However, when it comes to sexual violence, it appears to me that people think they mean different things. This results in people saying ‘they are not to blame for being raped but they need to take more responsibility for their actions that caused it’. Most people would say ‘that’s still victim blaming’, but in the mind of the speaker, they are reasoning that blame, responsibility and cause are different concepts that do not lead to the same level of culpability. They are saying that you could be at fault, but not to blame. They are saying that you should be held responsible, but that it wasn’t your fault. They are saying that your actions caused it, but that the perpetrator is equally to blame. What!?

At the moment, other than the fact that people have started to realise that research in this area has seriously muddled up these terms, not much else has been achieved to unpick this web. I have built this into my new measure and will be excited to see how language plays a role. I will also be conducting interviews across the UK on this topic to see what we can learn about this mixed up set of concepts. One thing is fairly clear though, ‘blame’ seems to carry much more negative weight than ‘responsibility’ which means that professional practice has already started to adopt this approach (either consciously or unconsciously) and I can already see the effects.

Professional Practice Example: Child Sexual Exploitation

I am going to use a fictitious but typical case study of a child who is being sexually exploited in the UK and then unpick some of the ways the ‘take responsibility’ message is harming professional practice with victims of sexual violence.

  • The child is 14 years old
  • They have a Facebook account through which they have been groomed repeatedly
  • They have been sexually exploited by a number of peers and adults
  • They are taken to hotels and pubs by perpetrators in nice cars
  • They are in love with their main perpetrator and have no idea why everyone thinks they are being abused
  • They are being given drugs and alcohol regularly

This case would be classed as ‘high risk’ in the UK using the CSE risk assessment toolkits (I don’t have time to go into the serious flaws in those here but the fact that a child who is already being raped is classed as ‘high risk’ probably gives you a good idea of my main criticism).

The child and family would have a number of different agencies involved in an effort to keep them safe and to reduce their risk.

The ‘take responsibility’ victim blaming message really takes hold here, and this is how:

“Parents need to take more responsibility for the safety of this child”

Whilst this seems fairly reasonable, because as parents, we are all legally responsible for the safety and wellbeing of our children; this is not quite what that statement means to parents of exploited children. This statement is used with parents even when they are trying absolutely everything in their power to keep their child safe but the perpetrators are just too powerful. The child climbs out of the bedroom window whilst they sleep. The perp pulls them out of school at dinner time. The perp threatens the child to ensure they run away and come back to the perp or the residence where the perpetrator are. In these situations, the power of the parents is limited. And yet, if the child continues to be exploited the child will inevitably be removed from the parents on the basis that they are failing in their responsibility to protect the child from harm. The local authority will seek to put the child in care which generally solves nothing, creates further trauma and vulnerabilities for the perp to exploit and ultimately, punishes the parents.

This is victim blaming.

Instead of focussing on the perp and the power of the perp, professionals are being taught and forced to focus on the responsibility of the parents. Rather than working with them, they eventually decide that the parenting is the source of the problem, in line with the traditional child protection model.

Even the CPS have banned the criticism of the responsibility of parents in CSE cases in court – but it still happens regularly in frontline practice. The shift in language from ‘blame’ to ‘responsibility’ has meant that parents continue to be blamed, but in a more subtle manner.
The ‘take responsibility’ message to parents results in parents and carers feeling helpless, disengaged and blamed by professionals who are using standards of ‘responsibility’ unfairly against parents who cannot override the power of the perpetrator. Nor can the professionals, and yet there is no punishment or blame for that. It is common in this country to see children who are removed from parents under the explanation that they were failing to protect their children from external perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation – but then the children are put in care homes and foster placements who also struggle to protect them and in most cases, the risk actually increases. Yet there is no such equivalent process for the professionals who are now also failing to protect the child. Surely, when the child is removed from the parents and the CSE continues to worsen, isn’t that just evidence that the risk was never coming from the parenting or the lack of ‘responsibility’ of the parents themselves? Is it so hard to see that the risk comes from the perpetrators?
“We need to help the child to make better decisions and to reduce their own risk

Nope, the children are not safe from the ‘take responsibility for your own abuse’ message either. The child in this case study would be told to complete work on ‘staying safe online’, ‘drug and alcohol awareness’ and ‘healthy and unhealthy relationships’ – in an attempt to engage the child in taking responsibility for their own safety and ultimately, for the actions of their perpetrators. The thought process behind this baffles me.

We have a child in serious trauma, being sexually exploited, going missing and already deeply groomed by the perpetrators and the national response to that is to help the children take more responsibility for their own safety? That horse has bolted, my friends. Why are we even doing these pieces of work whilst they are in active exploitation and active complex trauma/crisis? We have perpetrators sexually abusing children and we get them to sit down and watch a DVD about sexting and tell them that they need to take more responsibility for their online behaviours – completely ignoring the actions and grooming methods of the perpetrator, whom is the true catalyst behind these risks.

We can do all the ‘take responsibility’ work we like, but if the perp is still in the picture, we are actively and consistently perpetuating victim blaming by focussing on the responsibility of a child rather than putting all of our resources into the disruption of the perpetrator.

Which brings my to my final point. You will notice that throughout this post, there has been no mention by the anti-rape wear companies, the police, the home office, the NHS or the professionals about the responsibility and decision making of the perpetrator. I get the distinct feeling that professionals and larger structures feel that it is just too hard to target perpetrators so they target victims. This in itself, could be construed as victim blaming. Moving to the ‘take responsibility for your own safety’ message might look more socially desirable than victim blaming and it might cost organisations less money than chasing perps but this approach will not reduce sexual violence and it will not empower people who have experienced rape and sexual assault. The focus MUST shift back to the perpetrator and their responsibility.

Rather than ‘don’t get raped’ messages, we need ‘don’t rape’ messages.

Take responsibility = blaming the victim.

For more information about this article or my research, get in touch

Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

@JessicaE13Eaton